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EXCLUSIVE: Big Cat Country Interview with Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio: Part 1

I had the pleasure of speaking with Jacksonville Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio for over an hour yesterday.  Our conversation was broad and lengthy, over an hour.  I've painstakingly transcribed the conversation, which we'll have here at Big Cat Country over the next few days.  Big thanks to Coach Del Rio for taking the time to talk with us. 

RCR: First, Congratulations on winning the NCAA Silver Award. How did it feel to be recognized as a former student-athletes who excelled in their collegiate athletic endeavors and have succeeded careers?

Jack Del Rio: Well it really was quite an honor. I had the good fortune of attending southern cal and getting an opportunity to get a great education and to open many doors. Doors were opened that never would have been were it not for an opportunity to go play college football and to go get a college education. Looking back 25 years later at all of the things that I've been blessed with and been able to accomplish, it really was a major turning point in my life to get the opportunity to go to Southern Cal.

RCR: Speaking of Southern Cal, there was an incredible amount of rumor and speculation over the last two weeks about the future of the Jaguars, your future with the team, and a little rumor about the head coach vacancy at Southern Cal. What was it like from your perspective to go through all of that?

JDR: Well, the speculation on the SC end was flattering. That I would be considered as somebody that would be a viable candidate for such a great program, obviously one that I follow very closely is flattering.. I feel like here in Jacksonville I've got a terrific owner in Wayne Weaver, a great opportunity to finish what we started and this is a job that I very much appreciate and look forward to completing. One of the things that we laid out here was to, you know, bring a football team that could contend to championships and that could earn its way into the post-season to do so. So we're busy at work to finish that and all of my efforts and energy have been geared toward that. I have to say that it was really amazing to sit back and watch and see how stories, unchecked, would take on a life of their own. It was really pretty amazing to see.

In the end, things settled the way they should have. We had a planned year-end meeting, as we always had on our calendar to do. I think that we had a really productive evaluation and it's really continuing in terms of looking at things that we can do better. You know, that part with Mr. Weaver and the entire organization has been very thorough and we go forward now with resolve to make things a lot better.

RCR: How did this end-of-season meeting differ than previous end-of-season meetings?

JDR: Well, the biggest difference last year was that we started a process where we let the emotions of the season subside and took a week away from the team and then came back in the 2nd week and then went through our evaluation process. We actually started that part of it last year. I think this year; the other thing that occurred is that Mr. Weaver really wanted to take a through look at every aspect of the organization. And so I looked it as a great opportunity to share with Wayne all of the things that we do, all of the things that we look at and that we consider all the work that's put in and I thought it was a great opportunity to visit with him. I think it was portrayed maybe a little differently than how I viewed it. I thought it was a great opportunity to lay out all of the things that we do and be able to answer any questions he might have about the direction of this franchise, about the work that Gene and I have put in and about our plan, that is one year under our belt in the restructuring of this roster and the reason why continuing would be a great idea and be the most healthy idea going forward.

RCR: There have been reports that you and General Manager Gene Smith have a bad relationship. Can you comment your relationship with Gene?

JDR: We have a great relationship. When Wayne elected to make a change, I was one of the strong supporters to have Gene get elevated to the position that he is now in. We've had a strong relationship; I think he's excellent at what he does. We believe in a lot of the same things in terms of creating a football team with unselfish players and coaches, the need for discipline, and I think all for the things that we're pointing towards, we really began last year in terms of the way we approach the draft and free agency. It's really been misrepresented out there. I think Gene and I have a great relationship, in fact I know we do. I look forward to many years of work here in Jacksonville, working closely with Gene to bring a championship to this city.

RCR: Moving to talking about the team itself. Who are the guys that you are seeing on film and on the practice field that aren't noticed by the fans or getting attention they deserve?

JDR: Well, let's start with the offensive side of the ball. I would say, obviously, the two rookie tackles got a lot of attention; I think that's great because that bodes well for the future of our franchise. A guy like Uche Nwaneri who was a defensive tackle in college, made the transition to offensive line, was drafted in the middle to late rounds; I believe the 5th round for us. He's developed into a real fine player for us. He ended up the year starting at right guard, he's capable of playing center or guard, and I think his best football is in front of him and I think he had a real nice year, a real nice close to the year.

I think the emergence of Marcades Lewis, with a lot of questions about by other people in terms of what happened to this Tight End that was taken high and that we had high expectations for. I think he's become on of the more complete tight ends in the league. He's a terrific blocker, a Pro-Bowl level blocker without question. He showed up in the seams and in making some big plays for us. I think that this year he had the highest yards per catch at the tight end position. He's become a real leader for us in the locker room. I'm really pleased with the way he developed.

I think those are a couple of instances of guys who have quietly become really good football players for us.

On the defensive side, I think the great story is that our two young guys, Knighton and Cox, that were both taken in the third round were solid. We thought that both of those players had 2nd round type ability for us, and they both started and played very well for us. We can certainly build around them as we go forward.

I think the other guy defensively that is probably our most consistent defensive player is probably Daryl Smith. I think he's really been a pro. I know that he's been here awhile, I think that he and Greg Jones are two guys that are quietly going about their business and represent everything that you'd like to see in a football player. They're smart, they're tough, they're dedicated and they give us everything they have. I think those are a couple of pretty good stories.

Part Two: Pot Roast, Big John, and Wide Receivers